When you take up (or keep on) writing later in life

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It’s never too late to put a pen to paper and these famous writers are proof of that. Some have enjoyed long careers and continue to write books well into their eighties and nineties and beyond (think Herman Wouk). Others have become authors later in life. What do you think they all have in common? Probably a need to get their story out and for that, you don’t have to be young. In fact, being older can be a great advantage.

Read below and see what I mean:


John Barth – American novelist and professor. Currently 87, has been writing fiction since 1956 and has won many awards. Wrote Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera. Collected Stories was published in 2015.


Charles Bukowski was a German-American writer. He tried writing, was minimally successful, wound up working in a post office until he quit and wrote Post Office at age 49. Died in 1994 at age 73.


William S. Burroughs committed a ridiculous number of crimes, including murdering his wife, before he became a writer. Naked Lunch was published when he was 45. Died in 1997 at age 83.


Elmore Leonard – prolific award-winning writer of westerns and crime fiction, passed away in 2013 at age 87, published his last book, Raylan, in 2012.


Doris Lessing – passed away in 2013 at age 94. A British writer and biographer. Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007, noted as the oldest person to ever receive the award (age 88). Most well-known for The Grass Is Singing, The Golden Notebook and The Good Terrorist.


Toni Morrison – Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved and is still writing at age 86. Her most recent novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015.


Frank McCourt’s wife urged him to write Angela’s Ashes and the famous memoir was published when McCourt was 66. McCourt passed away in 2009 at age 78.


Alice Munro – currently age 86 – master of the short story. Dear Life was published in 2012 and she won the Nobel Prize in 2013. One of my favorite authors!


James Salter – passed away in 2015 at age 90. Wrote many novels throughout a long career, including The Hunters (1957) and All That Is (2013). Continued to lecture at age 89 until his death as Kapnick Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia.


Bram Stoker held a bunch of different jobs, including working as mathematician and an actor’s assistant. His writing career didn’t take off until he wrote Dracula at age 50.


Laura Ingalls Wilder was a teacher, mother, wife and farmer before she became a writer. Her first Little House book (Little House in the Big Woods) was published when the author was 64. She passed away in 1957 at age 90.


Tom Wolfe –Known in the 1960s for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff was published in 1979 and The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1987. His most recent nonfiction The Kingdom of Speech was published in 2016 when he was 85.  Perhaps he has another book in the works!


Herman Wouk – Wrote The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance and many more during a long career. He’s still going strong at age 102. His most recent book, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, was published in 2015.


Do you have a book idea ready to surface? Well, get started – you can do it!

Thanks to the following articles for helping me compile this list:

Five Authors Who Prove It’s Never Too Late To Start Writing – litreactor.com 4/29/13
8 Writers Over 80 – bookriot.com 3/15/13
And thanks to Wikipedia.org for the occasional fact check.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

26 thoughts on “When you take up (or keep on) writing later in life

  1. A hoary head presents valuable life experiences and a perspective that only age can offer an author. Even when you follow an author who has traveled through many decades his or her writing reflects their change as well. I began writing at 62 as a means to leave a legacy of storytelling for my grandchildren. As I learned well, preaching offers only temporal benefit, whereas storytelling offers the same truths with an opportunity to last for generations.

  2. Encouraging! I feel young. Check out a Book called And the Ladies of the Club, written by Helen Hooven Santmyer, about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a women’s literary club. Santmyer wrote the book at age 86. Fascinating piece of history and I loved it.

    1. Oh wow that sounds great. Thanks for telling me. My dad is 91 and is about to publish a book of short fiction so we are trying to find out about other writers who are doing what he is. Thanks for visiting, Noelle!

  3. Thanks for the reminder. I think too many of us “oldies” feel as if we have someone missed the opportunity to have a successful writing career, when the truth is it’s never too late!

  4. Fun post for all of us late bloomers! Another one is Anna Sewell who came out with her first novel at age 57. She died a year later but not until after she witnessed the great success of Black Beauty. Best of luck to your dad. My own dad self-published a book last year at the age of 90 (with my help). 🙂

    1. Oh wow for 2 things! 1 is I just read Black Beauty and did not know that about Sewell. And the other is congrats to your dad – I may come back and ask you more about that since my dad is interested in how many other people his age are writing books. Have a nice weekend, Marcia!

  5. Wow! This gives us all hope…I loved reading about all these writers, fascinating to see the various early careers and the Wouk has to be unique nearly…think to be able to write a book called ‘Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author’! Brilliant and thank you so for this inspiring post! 😀

  6. What a great post, Barbara. I read this and shared it earlier this week but was unable to comment at the time. Love the snippets of info you’ve put here with each author. It’s never too late. 🙂

  7. I am now 68. At age 24 I went to Alaska, inspired by Emerson and the Transcendental poets to live life fully. Please see my website to learn about the historical fiction saga I’ve written about the twelve years I spent on a remote Alaskan mountain back before there were cellphones. You might agree that reading it will make learning more fun for those who are curious. http://www.sleepingmoosesaga.com

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